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Kokoda Challenge Race Testimonial

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#1 Boss Meri

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Posted 08 August 2008 - 12:49 AM

If you have previously competed in our Kokoda Challenge Race, please post your comments here so that other potential competitors can read what you have to say.

To post, you first have to register.  Once you have completed your registration you can log in and post your comments by clicking on the 'Add Reply' button; type your testimonial and then click the 'Add Reply' button.

At this point, your message will be uploaded onto our website.

Thank you for taking the time to post your comments.

Kind Regards
Kokoda Trekking Ltd (KTL)

Gail Thomas (Boss Meri)

#2 Boss Meri

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Posted 10 August 2008 - 12:44 PM


On August 26th 2006, myself and 42 others lined up at Owers Corner, near Port Moresby for the start of the 96km Kokoda 22 Hour Challenge. The Kokoda Track is an historical icon amongst Australians as the scene of courageous fighting by an under prepared and outnumbered Australian army who turned back the Japanese in World War II. The track has since become popular by Aussie trekkers, normally completed in 5-10 gruelling days. The previous year, John Hunt had set the record for traversing the track in 22 hours in the inaugural race, run by Kokoda Trekking Ltd. Two other Aussies had also made the trip over for the second running of this event, brothers Bryan and Sean O’Hara. They had run the previous year and were keen to do a little better as they had gotten lost last time. This was my first time on the track and I was a little unsure what I had gotten myself into. I was travelling as light as I could while also remaining self sufficient. I was carrying a backpack full of enough muesli bars, carboshotz gels and electrolyte drink mixes for 24 hours, basic first aid kit, map, spray jacket, head torch and camera – I was still a tourist after all. We were running from the south to the north, passing 8 checkpoints (CP’s) along the way where officials with radios, water and basic food would be stationed for 36 hours.

From Owers Corner, the track immediately drops steeply 250m on a narrow trail to the Goldie River. To reduce the risk of accidents on this opening section, a staggered start was enforced, with competitors starting in one second intervals. Right on 7am the gun went off and the locals bolted. Having heard how fast these mountain goats travel downhill, I quickly stepped aside and let them go for it. Amidst the yelling and cheering I could see Sean and Bryan doing the same further downhill. Within a couple of minutes they were all out of sight and I walked down after them. I made the river just in time to see the last of them climbing up the other side as I took off my shoes to wade across. I was told this was the only river crossing where you definitely had to get wet, so I opted to save my feet and keep my shoes and socks dry for now.

Having warmed up, I started a jog and soon caught up to the group, passing Sean and Bryan who were running together, and big Tom Hango, a local who came 3rd last year and was bedridden with malaria just two days earlier (he was to later finish 6th!). The first major climb was 400m up the famous Imita Ridge, where the Aussies first got a glimpse at the Owen Stanley ranges during the war. I was feeling great and slowly working my way up the field, keeping count of each competitor so I knew how many were in front. Half the locals hadn’t bothered putting their shoes back on after Goldies (the ever reliable KT26 was their shoe of choice) preferring to run barefoot. I also passed one guy carrying a 10” hunting knife in one hand, making me wonder what he knew about the trail that I didn’t. Soon we were on Imita Ridge, where I stopped briefly to chat to some kiwi trekkers walking the other way, before jogging down the other side. Taking the downhill carefully again, I was quickly overtaken by just about everyone I had passed as they came screaming down after me seemingly unconcerned with falling. I jumped for the bushes when Mr Knife came down, definitely didn’t want to get in his way. I tagged onto a few of the locals as the track weaved its way around Ua-Ule Creek. They seemed happy enough to show me the way, although I think it was more for the entertainment value, having a good laugh as I constantly slipped and fell over trying to keep up. So much for keeping my feet dry, they were now completely soaked.

I was still feeling good and when the next climb started, 1000m up to the Maguli Range, I soon found myself passing Mr Knife again. I caught up to the barefoot John Hunt, the current record holder, as he stopped to adjust his pack. Working my way back through the field again, I had totally lost count of what position I was in and made it to Ioribaiwa Village, the first CP at 9:15, certain there must be still a half dozen ahead of me. Unknowingly, I was in the lead group. We grabbed some food and drink and headed off, easing the pace a bit up the hill to eat up. As soon as this peleton was finished eating I took off, hoping to catch the guys ahead. My initial plan was to sit with the front bunch and let them pace me and show me the way. I was worried about getting lost and wanted to settle in and get a feel for the trail for a while, but here I was, unknowingly in front of them all. From the top of the Maguli Range, I could make out the next CP at New Nauro, a neat, little village located on a ridge with awesome 360 degree views. Arriving there soon after at about 11:25am I found I was the first and decided I may as well keep it up as things we going pretty good. I had been eating well too, every 30 minutes having a muesli bar or carboshotz to keep the energy up.

Dropping 650m down from Maguli, there was another 400m climb to get over to Menari Village and CP3. I passed another group of trekkers just before the climb started, at a moment when I was starting to question whether I was on the right track, having not seen anyone for ages and the track becoming a bit faint. This was one of the steepest climbs and was the first to make me struggle and a quick glance at my map showed me that Brigade Hill, a 700m + climb would follow shortly after. The guys were still out of sight behind me as I passed through the Menari CP and a 400m descent. The climb up Brigade Hill hit me hard, right from the start. Struggling up the steep first 100m, I found a horizontal log next to the track where I collapsed face down on for a bit of a “rest”. What have I got myself into, I thought. I was rooted and I was barely a third of the way! Having a drink and pulling myself together, I pushed myself further up the hill. Thankfully the gradient eased up and spotting a local sitting up the trail, obviously waiting to help one of the local runners behind me, I stuck my chest out and powered up, keen to look good. Luckily he didn’t see the mess I was in 10 minutes earlier. Watching my altimeter carefully, I reached the top right on cue, where there was a great view back down the valley. Being the sight of one of the battles in the war, a small memorial was built at the summit, where I happily paused for a minute for a photo and look around.

It was now downhill to the halfway point at Efogi Village and CP4. Enjoying the downhill jog, it was a surprise when the forest finally broke and I saw Efogi a couple of km’s away, just making out a crowd of people in the distance. At the same time, I heard a huge roar coming from the village, must be a footy game on I thought. Soon back in the forest, I continued down to a river and a short 75m climb up to the village. All the while I had it in the back of my mind – that roar wasn’t for me was it? No way. As I walked up the hill I spotted some Aussie trekkers and quickly put on a run for their cameras. Lucky I did, for once I rounded the hill and entered the village I found probably over a hundred screaming locals and trekkers. The visiting Aussies quickly burst into versus of Waltzing Matilda while the locals just ran after me. This was unbelievable. Totally blown away I could barely get out a thank you for them as I ran through. It was now 3pm, 8 hours in and halfway.

Running down from Efogi I pulled out my map and checked some sketches which Rowan, ex expat, had given us detailing some tricky turns on the trail. This was the most likely spot to get lost he told Bryan, Sean and myself the night before. Coming to an intersection, one of the locals had kept up with me and pointed straight ahead. “The right is a shortcut, the main track goes straight”. I looked longily at the shortcut, liking the sound of that and asked if he was sure. “Yes, you must go straight”. Bugger, oh well. I continued down the hill, crossed a creek and started climbing up an incredibly steep track next to a waterfall. I was watching my sketch map the whole way, not wanting to miss any turns. Finally I came to an airstrip and a fork. There was no airstrip on my sketch and I knew Rowan would have mentioned that so I knew I was on the wrong track. Not liking the thought of going back and trusting the man who gave me directions to not have given me a totally bum steer, I took the more “main” looking track to my right and continued up. Eventually I came to a village where the locals informed me I was in Kagi. Yep, definitely off track but not so bad, only a short detour. A local who knew about the race came running over and escorted me along the track, passing the junction where the “shortcut” would have led me. From the Efogi direction I could hear a roar so I knew the next guys weren’t far behind.

It didn’t take long for me to get caught on the 600m climb from Kagi. At about 5:30pm, Brendan Buka caught me on a downhill and gave me a friendly hello. I was really slowing now and he looked comfortable. He must have been relieved to catch me and eased up a bit and I managed to keep him in sight. Brendan led me into CP5 where the locals must have been expecting me to be in front. When they saw Brendan leading they all broke into huge cheers and I had to laugh. Brendan stopped for a feed but I was still eating based on time, and left the CP before him. A short climb up Kokoda Gap followed as the sun was setting and Brendan had still not caught up. Pulling out my 3W LED head torch at a steep downhill section, I pictured him using the low powered hand torches I’d seen some of the locals carrying. Finally something may slow them on the bloody downhills! Unfortunately for me, this was not the case. The darkness did not seem to be stopping Brendan and soon he had flown by me with his little torch and disappeared in the distance as I very awkwardly staggered down the steep slope. He didn’t push on with it though and I could just make out his light ahead and we arrived at Tempeltons Crossing, the next CP together again. The track was at its muddiest and slipperiest here and Brendan stopped briefly allowing me to pass. I wondered if he was setting me up for a wrong turn but I decided to push ahead and saw his light fade behind me. I don’t know how I didn’t twist an ankle or stay on track on the 500m descent as I ran as fast as I dared, with numerous ass slides down the muddy slope to Iora Creek, but I couldn’t shake him. The map had this section marked with “many leeches”, but my few glances down at my legs totally covered in mud showed that they would have trouble getting through to get a feed!

Arriving at the creek I had to look around to find where to go, with Brendan catching up and pointing the way. We stopped for a wash before crossing the creek and starting the next climb. I was suffering some major chaffing in areas where the sun don’t shine and couldn’t put up with it any longer and stopped to lube up and double check the map. I saw Brendan’s light disappear and hoped I’d catch up, but after about 4 hours running together it was like the rubber band between us had snapped and I was now dropped and broken. I was really suffering now and could barely make a shuffle. Endless little ups and downs were killing me and I was resorting to crawling up the steeper sections, with my face about a foot away from the ground ahead. I had to stop again for a minute and try to get my head together. I was now on the last quarter of the map with the remaining section being mostly downhill, losing about 1100m. The trail was becoming faint again and I was getting worried I was off track, but right at the moment I was about to turn back, I saw the lights of Alolo Village and CP7. The cheers from the villager there that had stayed up carried me on, but it was still just a walk.

Another hour on I entered a clearing where the fog had settled, creating an eerie scene. Shining my torch around carefully so as not to miss the track, I wandered through the deserted village. Spotting a sign down the hill I wandered over to take look – it was the original Isurava Village, I had nearly missed it. This was the site of a famous battle where the overwhelmed Aussie 39th and other battalions held back the Japanese for several days, and home to a well known memorial. With visibility in the fog around 5-10m, I just managed to make out the memorial further down the hill and walked down and rested for a minute. Here I was, in the best shape of my life, fit and healthy, with all the latest gear, maps, experienced in travelling on trails like this, and I was ready to drop and give up. I was humbled by what those guys had been through and how they had kept going. Looking back through the mist, I found the trail out and staggered on.

Finally I arrived at the new Isurava Village and the final CP. Luckily the villagers were still up and after wandering aimlessly around looking for the track out, they ran over to lead the way. A steep muddy descent followed and I was not surprised to see another light soon appear behind me. It was Wayne Urina, another local and he was flying. Most of the PNG guys takes lots of fast, little steps down the hills, but Wayne strode out a bit more and made it look easy. He told me I had a bit of a break on the guys behind and then disappeared. I continued down the hill and eventually came out to a small hut where some people were waiting up. They said it was not far to Kokoda, just down the hill. The track has smoothed out a bit and I decided to finish up with a run. I could hear some noise in the distance and fired up for the finish. The village lights and crowd eventually came into sight and I charged in to their cheers and was mobbed. Just about to throw my pack down, one guy comes up and informs me - Kokoda is that way, half an hour away. What? Wasn’t this Kokoda? Couldn’t I stop now? I was in Hoi Village, not Kokoda and had just used up the last of my bikkies to get there. My new friend offered to show me the way and I reluctantly took off again. After seeing me now walking and not even looking like running, he reconsiders – “one hour to Kokoda”.

One hour of easy walking later, at 2:30am and 19.5 hours after I started, I finally arrived at Kokoda. There was no mistaking it this time. There were hundreds of people lining the street, cheering and throwing flowers. Crossing the line, they must have sensed I could not take another step and before I knew it, half a dozen guys had grabbed me and hoisted me onto their shoulders and carried me to my “throne”, a chair set out in front of all the villagers who were keen to hear all about my day. Brendan Buka had smashed the old record in 17 hours 47 minutes, and Wayne Urina finished second in under 19 hours. The other Aussies, Bryan and Sean O’Hara finished together in 27 hours.

Thanks to Gail and Russell at Kokoda Trekking for organising this event, and to all the locals who came out to cheer us on. This would have to be without doubt the hardest run I have done and doubt there would be any trails in the world which could compare. If you are not going straight up or down, you are pushing through mud, rivers, boulders and tree stumps, it’s relentless. I can’t wait to go back.

Damon Goerke

Editors Note:

Kokoda Challenge Race 2006 Competitor - 3rd placegetter - Time: 19:28:48

Fastest International to have crossed the Kokoda Trail - ranked 3 overall.  Currently entered in the 'Bull of Africa' race 600km August 2008

Attached Images

  • Brigade_Hill.jpg
  • Efogi.jpg
  • Efogi_2.jpg

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